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End of the Beginning

June 30th, 2011 No comments

I just returned from my last day of work as an English teacher for Planeo in Hannover. It’s been a week of goodbyes, and now the reality that my time here is coming to an end has really begun to hit home. I’ll never teach an English lesson for E.ON employees again. I’ll never even go into those buildings again. After nearly three years of going and coming, it hardly feels real that I’ll never go there again.

E.ON Energie Mühlenberg, where I did most of my teaching.

The goodbyes began last Friday with my last trip to Helmstedt and my last lesson with the chatty secretaries who were the students I had the longest, and they were definitely the most sad to see me go. On the way back I stopped in Braunschweig to pay a second visit to my Grandfather’s cousin Elisabeth, which also ended with a farewell although we’ve only met twice.

Monday I said goodbye to two classes, the second of which was full of a bunch of guys I really loved teaching, both because of their sense of humor and the fact that they loved hearing me go on at length about American politics. I gave them one final rant, this time about the Obama budget talks and how I now think he has no chance of winning re-election.

Tuesday I had only one lesson, this one with two guys, one of them was Holger—the guy I went to the Coppelius show with many months ago—but our goodbye wasn’t too official as we’re now friends on Facebook and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

My last Wednesday lesson was last week but nobody showed up, so I didn’t need to say any goodbyes there.

And today I had my last three lessons back-to-back. The first was the lesson with Mandy, my most beautiful student whom I’ve contemplated asking out many times but never did because I always got vibes of a complete lack-of-interest in me from her. I’d contemplated saying something like, “Now that you’re not my student anymore, it wouldn’t be awkward for me to ask you out. How would you like a boyfriend for two weeks?” I wouldn’t have actually done that but I was spared the annoyance of having chickened-out by finally confirming after all this time that she does in fact have a boyfriend. She’s never directly mentioned him before but when I asked her about her plans for the summer and she said she wanted to go somewhere with her “friend” I asked “your boyfriend?” and she said yes. So now I can feel just fine about never having pursued anything there.

Then it was my last lesson with one of my favorite students, Katja, with whom I spent most of the time talking about politics and making jokes. My sense of humor always seemed to appeal to her so I always enjoyed those lessons. I’m definitely sad about never seeing her again.

And finally, my last lesson was cut mercifully short as the two women who take part had a meeting to go to only a half-hour later. They brought me down to the cafeteria and treated me to a drink as we exchanged farewells and best-wishes.

The last person I bid farewell to was the very nice receptionist at the E.ON building, whom I told it was my last day and I’d be off to Japan now, and of course the first thing she brought up was Fukushima. But she and the other receptionist wished me a very fond farewell and then I left the building, taking a deep breath of the fresh jobless air.

E.ON Energy from Waste in Helmstedt 2nd E.ON Building in Mühlenberg

This is the beginning of the end of my time in Germany, but the end of the beginning of my English teaching career. It’s been a fantastic experience, one I think was a great way to start out doing this. It’s going to be extremely different in Japan, but I’ve grown enough both as a teacher and a person to feel ready for it now.

All that remains is to get my affairs in order, enjoy the hell out of these last two weeks, and then head back to the U.S.A. for a month before finally going to Japan. I’ll be in three countries in the next two months. Another one of my life’s major turning points is under way.

President Bachmann? It could happen.

June 25th, 2011 No comments

Right up until this past week, I’d been looking at Michele Bachmann’s candidacy for president as nothing more than an entertaining joke. The woman who famously suggested that the media look into members of Congress to determine if they’re pro- or anti-American, who says that climate science must be wrong because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, who thought that the American Revolution began in New Hampshire, could never actually be president.

presidential-seal MBR presidential-seal

But then the Republican debate happened, and all at once the entire mainstream media began taking her seriously. I didn’t watch the debate, but I can easily imagine how a combination of low expectations, innate self-confidence, and contrast with the other boring candidates would have helped her stand out greatly to anyone watching. She is not your typical Republican, and nowadays that’s a huge advantage and one that the media was sure to take notice of.

And once the media takes your candidacy seriously, the rest of the country soon follows. Now Michele Bachmann will no longer be seen as Palin 2.0 but a serious contender for the Republican nomination and therefore the White House. Her history of crazy and/or false comments will be swept to the side, and anyone who brings such things up will be dismissed as a left-wing smear-merchant. “Forget her absurd crusade against the U.S. adopting an international currency—you should be focusing on what she’s saying now.” And as her poll numbers rise and the campaign cash continues to flow, she’ll surround herself with people skilled in the art of making even the most insane candidates sound reasonable.

Michele Bachmann is not insane (though she certainly often sounds that way), and she’s not Sarah Palin (i.e. she’s neither too dumb nor too lazy to run a serious presidential campaign). She is, however, a true believer—as Christian as they come. Read Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece on Bachmann to get a true sense of this. This is a woman who married her husband Marcus because she claims that she, a friend of hers, and Marcus all had a vision from God at the same time. She’s a fierce opponent of gay rights and is as pro-life as they come. These factors will ensure that she’ll have a significant portion of the social-conservative vote locked up from the very beginning, and her uniqueness as a candidate among a field of weak Republicans could easily push her over the top.

It all comes down to whether or not there are still enough sane, pragmatic Republicans left in the party to recognize that Mitt Romney—in spite of his complete lack of solid convictions about anything—is still their best bet to beat Obama in the general election. In 2008, conservatives held their noses and picked McCain because they thought in the end he stood the best chance of winning independents, so it’s not unlikely the same thing will happen again (in which case Bachmann is a shoe-in for VP). But Romney is so weak, so boring, so detested by the Republican base and such a blatant and transparent flip-flopper that his stench might be too much for Republican primary voters even with their noses held. Add to that the widespread (yet obviously false) perception that the reason Republicans lost in 2008 was that their candidate wasn’t right-wing enough, and Michele Bachmann at the top of the ticket doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

Nothing I’ve written so far is the least bit controversial, but where I know most people will disagree with me is that I believe Michele Bachmann actually stands a very good chance of defeating Barack Obama in the general election. Why? Enthusiasm. Bachmann excites her base. Obama deflates his.

I won’t go into the standard litany of reasons as to why the progressive base is disenchanted and frustrated with Obama—it’s enough to merely restate that the central promise of his campaign was “not to the play the game better” but to “put an end to the game-playing” and in reality all he’s done for the past two and a half years is play the same old Washington games. Rather than stand up and use the power of the presidential bully-pulpit to forcefully articulate a vision for the country and make the (very easily made) arguments in favor of progressive policies, he’s tried to have it both ways on every issue and make compromise after unnecessary compromise with Republicans whom he must know are not negotiating in good faith.

He could secure re-election right now by simply refusing to play these games with the Republicans and proposing instead a massive jobs bill whereby the government will hire millions of Americans and put them to work re-building the nation’s infrastructure (which is in great need of re-building). The Republicans will scream and cry about more excessive spending, but since they’ve been screaming and crying about nothing else for the last two years their objections won’t have so much force. President Obama could make the case that this kind of spending is the best possible kind of spending for the economy, as it puts money directly into the hands of middle class Americans, giving them more purchasing power and thus getting the wheels of the economy rolling again. The American people, most of whom are not wed to a political ideology and who vote solely based on their own financial situation will see one party pushing a bill to create jobs and another party blocking it. Such a bill would undoubtedly fail in the Republican-controlled House, but the legislative failure would be a political victory, and voters would go to the polls next November determined to keep the guy who fights for them in the White House and kick out everyone standing in his way.

But sadly, Obama is operating according to a completely different political calculus. He believes that he’s got the liberal and progressive vote locked up, so all he has to do is drift far enough to the right to secure enough independents to push him over the top. As such, he believes he can compromise with Republicans to look as centrist and moderate as possible at the expense of the middle class. Instead of job creation, this is what we’ll get from Obama:

1- He’s already announced a draw-down of troops in Afghanistan, but one so small-scale and slow that even after three years we’ll still have twice as many troops over there as we did when he took office. That means more middle class kids remaining in harm’s way while billions of treasury dollars continue to be flushed down the toilet on an unwinnable war, forcing us to look elsewhere to cut the deficit.

2- There will be modest cuts to Medicare. Paul Ryan laid the groundwork for an all-out assault on the program that provides health care to seniors, and since Obama has never met a Republican plan that he didn’t want to meet half-way, we can be sure he’ll reach some “reasonable” compromise and weaken the program without completely destroying it (which he will call “strengthening” it).

3- The Social Security retirement age will be raised. In spite of the fact that over 80% of Americans don’t want their representatives to make any cuts to Social Security benefits whatsoever, it’s a foregone conclusion in Washington that cuts will be made and raising the retirement age is how to do it. The AARP has folded on this, and even members of the progressive caucus are saying they’re open to the idea. No one in Washington is going to fight on behalf of 80% of Americans on this issue, so average workers can look forward to a few extra years of work, courtesy of Obama’s political calculation.

4- There will be massive cuts to Medicaid. While many Democrats are at least willing to voice their opposition to this, because it’s politically dangerous to cut Medicare and Social Security too drastically, Medicaid will be the “sacrificial lamb”, as Jay Rockefeller put it. The money’s got to come from somewhere, so why not the program that provides health-care for people who can’t afford it? If you count children, Medicaid pays for the health-care of about 25% of Americans, so one out of every four of us can expect less help with our medical bills, thanks to Obama’s re-election strategy.

I could be wrong, but I see this as a disastrous strategy, one that is almost guaranteed to lose Obama the White House. But Obama believes that progressives have nowhere else to go, and if someone like Michele Bachmann is his opponent, he should easily cruise to victory.

But when an incumbent is running, most voters don’t even consider the opposition candidate and base their decision solely on whether or not they want to re-hire the guy they currently have. If they see that not only is the economy still struggling, that they’re still wrestling with their private insurance companies, their friends are still unemployed, and on top of that they’re now getting less help from the government with their medical bills and they’ll have to work a few extra years before retirement, they won’t care that they’ll be hiring Michele Bachmann—who would certainly be far worse for them—they’ll only be thinking of firing Obama.

I know it seems crazy. And I admit that I just can’t conceive of Michele Bachmann as President of the United States—I can’t picture her addressing the nation from the oval office no matter how hard I try—but then I think of all those conservatives in 2008 who found the idea of a black man in the White House equally inconceivable.

As Bachmann rises to become the nation’s top Republican the idea will gradually seem less and less absurd, and by the time she’s standing across from Barack Obama at the first presidential debate people who might consider her a joke now will have had plenty of time to grow used to the idea of her as president.

In his final act of self-destruction, President Obama will probably instruct his campaign not to attack Bachmann at all, not to call her out on her lies, her religious fundamentalism, or her nutty ideas, and to instead treat her respectfully and agree with her as much as possible. That’s the truly centrist thing to do, and Obama thinks it’ll help him win independents. He never really punched at McCain even when he chose Sarah Palin to run as his VP, and the Obama campaign’s failure to call her out on her idiocy lent her a large degree of legitimacy (temporary though it was). In the same respect, his campaign will legitimize Michele Bachmann.

In the end, most Americans vote on personality, and Bachmann’s is just more appealing. Unlike Obama, she is a fighter. She has strong convictions, and while every one of those convictions might be wrong, dangerous, or outright crazy, she is at least willing to fight for them. Obama is weak, he looks weak, he sounds weak, and he’s governed weakly throughout his whole first term. Bachmann looks and sounds strong, and voters like strength.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong about all of this, but unless we start taking Bachmann seriously we’ll continue laughing at and dismissing her right up until she’s sworn in as president and we’re left with mouths agape, wondering how the hell that happened.

Inside The Wall

June 19th, 2011 No comments

I might not be the world’s biggest Pink Floyd fan, but I’m fairly confident I’d make the Top 20. And while I don’t listen to their albums as frequently as I used to and when I do it’s usually their earlier stuff, the album that started it all for me was The Wall. After discovering that as a teenager I’d lay in bed in the dark and listen to it almost every night, deriving not just pleasure from the music but deep emotional catharsis from the meaning (or at least the meaning I perceived) behind it. By that time, Pink Floyd had been broken up for over two decades and it was an absolute certainty that a full-scale live production of The Wall would never happen again, and I lamented being born too late to have seen it. But when I learned to my astonishment last year that Roger Waters was going on tour with The Wall again, I knew I had to go.

Couldn't resist buying the shirt either.

Because I’m living in Germany I had to wait for the European leg of the tour, which just came to Germany this month. I bought tickets and saw the show in Mannheim, and last week went to both shows in Berlin. My blog entry for the Mannheim show was written more or less like a typical personal blog entry, focused primarily on my experience, but I’ll try to make this entry a bit more universal and write about the experience. While no experience of a show can be completely divorced from my subjective opinions of the songs, the seats I was in, and the people I was surrounded by—which I’ll describe at the forefront—I will write this as though for any fellow Floyd fans who saw the show and want to re-live the experience, or who missed the show but are curious as to how it was done. Normal readers who are not familiar with The Wall won’t find anything of interest here.

The Circumstances:

I’d bought a ticket for the Mannheim show as soon as I heard The Wall would be touring again because that was the first show in Germany. Just a day later it occurred to me how awesome it would be to see it in Berlin—what with the whole significance of “the wall” idea for that city, as well as the fact that the last time Roger did The Wall was in Potzdamer Platz shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, which at the time was the largest concert event ever staged. I bought a ticket for the first night in Berlin, and assumed those two shows would be the only shows I’d see.

But when I looked at the seating chart and saw that my seats for the first show, Wednesday night, were far off to the side of the stage just like they were at the Mannheim show (only on the opposite side of the arena), I wished I’d get to see the wall from straight on at least once. It’s a very visual show and when your view is drastically askew it’s a different experience. I’d also be at the mercy of whomever was seated next to me, and if like the first show it was near people who weren’t all that into it, I’d feel a little self-conscious about getting into it as much as I could. So to remedy both problems I called my friend Oliver and asked if he’d want to join me—he was also into Floyd as a kid, though his childhood was a decade before mine—and I got us two tickets on the lower level of the stadium, directly stage-center.

On Wednesday night I went to Berlin equipped with my camera, got a few nice shots of the actual Berlin Wall, the largest remaining section coincidentally right across the street from the O2 Arena where the metaphorical wall was being built, and eventually found my way inside and up to my seat.

The [Berlin] Wall The artwork was recently re-done by the original artists. A couple of interesting images. Trippy.

On the first night I hadn’t spoken to any of my neighbors and it made me feel self-conscious throughout, so I made it a point to talk to the friendly-seeming guy to my right before the show started. I learned he was from a nearby village and was seeing the show because he’d wanted to go to the Potzdamer Platz show back in 1990 but didn’t have the time, and this would make up for it. He said he never goes to live concerts so this would be a real treat for him. The people to my left I spoke to at intermission, and while they said they’d driven 200 km to see the show, they “weren’t really big Pink Floyd fans” and they sucked some of the enjoyment out of my experience by basically sitting on their hands the whole time and never getting into it at all. For some reason, that seemed to be the case for the whole audience Wednesday night, who were noticeably less enthusiastic than the audience in Mannheim had been. The audience then were always rising to their feet to dance and clap along, and the applause after the show lasted a solid five minutes until the lights finally came up. On Wednesday in Berlin, only the people in the floor seats ever stood up, there was much less clapping along, and the applause ended the moment Roger left the stage.

Wednesday's perspective. Vantage point from Thursday.

The circumstances for the Thursday show could not have been more different, both in terms of my own experience and of the audience at large. I of course had my friend Oliver to my left who was just as psyched about seeing the show for the first time as I was about seeing it again (and finally from the right perspective), and to my left was a middle-aged American couple who were obviously fans. Before the show started I heard the man explaining some of the meaning of the album to the woman, and I would have tried to talk to him but the show started just a minute or two after we sat down. He turned out to be a mega-fan, more enthusiastic than anyone I’ve ever seen at a Floyd show, and his presence was a hugely significant factor in my experience of the Thursday show for good and for ill. Ill because he couldn’t be ignored—he was obviously a little drunk and kept singing along and making loud comments about how “fucking great” everything was—but good because there could be no doubt that this guy appreciated the music. He was carrying on so loudly that the woman in front of me kept turning around with her camera to take pictures of him, which he thought was hilarious. At first it was quite a mental struggle to not let it ruin the show but I eventually figured out how to go with it, which was much easier once I actually spoke to him at the intermission.

I said “I have to talk to you because you’re obviously a fan,” and he immediately apologized and said “I’m sorry, brother, I just can’t help myself. My wife and I came all the way from Colorado for this tour. What do you think of the show?” I told him it was incredible and this was actually the third time I’ve seen it, and he grinned widely and said, “Yeah brother, I’ve seen it like five times!” and he immediately gave me a big hug of Floyd-fanatic solidarity. During the second half of the show, he switched seats with his wife and sat directly next to me, and took my hand to say, “It’s nice to be able to share this experience with you, brother.” So during the second half it was easier not to get frustrated by him. I just figured that’s how I would be if I were just as drunk. He was loudly singing along so I didn’t have to. I could sing along and dance in my chair as well, and I wouldn’t have to feel self-conscious at all because he was way more over-the-top, and my own visible enjoyment of the show would only add to his.

Strangely enough, just like on Wednesday my own immediate seating-surroundings were like a microcosm of the entire audience, and just as my neighbors on Wednesday hadn’t been too into it and the audience as a whole was relatively lame, my neighbors on Thursday were as enthusiastic as you can imagine and the audience as a whole was noticeably more into it as well. It wasn’t just my perception—I’d paid attention to the section I knew I’d be sitting in on Thursday from my seats on Wednesday and that section was seated throughout the whole show. But on Thursday night, when I was in that section, we were up on our feet and clapping along whenever the music was conducive to it. And when the show was over, the applause maintained its intensity right up until the house lights came up. It was strange but fascinating how different the audience-dynamics were for the same show in the same city, just one night apart.

So now I’ll go song by song and describe what the experience was like, mentioning my own personal experience only when relevant, and include any photos I took that came out half-way decent enough to include.

In the Flesh?

The lights go down and the crowd starts cheering. A couple of men dressed in the fascist-uniforms used later in the show drag a man-sized puppet to the center of the stage, and you hear the most famous lines from the film Spartacus as the Roman soldiers demand that the defeated rebel slaves hand over “the living flesh of the slave called Spartacus”. A spotlight shines down on one of the audience-members. “I’m Spartacus!” you hear. Another spotlight on another audience-member: “I’m Spartacus!” Again and again: “I’m Spartacus…I’m Spartacus…I am Spartacus!”

Then all the lights turn off and it gets very quiet. Suddenly you hear a lone trumpet player standing somewhere in the middle of the left side of the arena playing “Outside the Wall”. You’re probably getting chills at this point, especially if you know what’s coming. It goes on for a short while, longer than it does on the album, and just when you’re about to slip into a more relaxed state—BANG!!! Off goes the first round of fireworks along with the first notes of “In the Flesh?” blaring across the arena at top-volume. The crowd erupts as the band behind the not-yet-built wall plays.

That space-cadet glow. Then the man himself, Roger Waters, walks out on stage and the crowd erupts with applause again. He waves hello to those sitting stage left—they go wild. He crosses to stage-right and they go wild (I rise to my feet and wave when I’m up there, just in case he might take notice). He turns to the rest of the crowd and everyone is thunderously applauding until some stage-hands put him in uniform and he starts to sing: “So you thought you might like to go to the show?” After the verse is sung the special effects really kick into gear: a fireworks display that you’d have to see to believe, and finally a model airplane flying and crashing into the top of the right side of the wall, knocking off a few bricks and bursting into flames beyond.

The Thin Ice

On the screen there’s a picture of a soldier, which fades to a picture of a notebook page with some information about that soldier typed up on it: Eric Fletcher Waters, 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers of the British Army in World War II, who died at Anzio on 18 February 1944 and left his son Roger to grow up without a father. The first brick in the wall.

Then there’s a picture of a Muslim woman who might look a little familiar to some. The picture  fades to a notebook page of information about her: Neda Agha-Soltan, January 23, 1983 – June 20, 2009. I hadn’t seen this at the first show because my view of the screen was blocked, but I’d noticed her picture on the wall during intermission without knowing she had already made an earlier appearance. For those who don’t know, she was the woman whose gruesome death from a bullet-wound was caught on tape during the 2009 Iranian uprising after the stolen elections. Her death really made that whole event hit home and I was personally moved by it enough to write several blog entries about it, and I found it very moving that Roger would feature her so prominently in the show.

As the song is sung the screen cycles through several more pictures of dead soldiers and political activists along with their names and basic information. It’s half rock-song, half-memorial, and unless you’ve got a drunk American singing along at the top of his lungs next to you, it’s impossible not to be moved by it.

Another Brick in the Wall, Part I

Everybody knows “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” so the music at the beginning of Part I sounds familiar enough to everybody to get them excited and cheering for what they know is coming next. I personally love Part I and find the words much more moving than Part II: “Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory. A snap-shot in the family album. Daddy, what else did you leave for me?” While my biological father didn’t die in a war, I did have to grow up without him and it undoubtedly had a similar effect on me as it did on Roger, which is a huge part of the reason the album spoke to me so deeply when I discovered it. “Daddy, what’d you leave behind for me? All in all it was just a brick in the wall. All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.”

It’s a very dark number, with nothing but a bit of red light like waves projected across the stage as Roger plays bass alone in front of the wall. I’m getting chills on all three nights. On the third night Oliver turns to me and points out the goose-bumps he’s getting. The drunk American guy to my left says, “I’m in heaven,” which I can’t help but smile at. So am I.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives

The sound of a helicopter can be heard and a spotlight emerges from behind the left side of the unfinished wall and finally lands on a single audience member. “You! Yes, you! Stand still, laddy!” Then…BUM. Ba-BUM! Bum, bada bum, bada bum, bada bum, ba-BUM!

This is what everyone recognizes from the radio and they all go nuts. Even the third time around I’m still getting chills from knowing what’s coming and knowing just how much the audience is going to love it. “When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children any way they could…”

I’m not exactly sure, but it’s either now or during the next song that the stage-hands bring out and place the first few bricks on the stage to start the construction of the wall. It definitely happens very subtly and unceremoniously, and on the first two nights I’d been so into the music that I hadn’t even noticed they’d started building the wall until it was under way.

In any case, the anticipation in the air is palpable, some hands are already clapping, and everyone braces themselves for what they know is coming next. “…but in the town it was well-known when they got home at night their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives!”

Another Brick in the Wall, Part II

Then come the most famous (and most mis-interpreted) lines of any Pink Floyd song of all time: “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought-control. No dark sarcasm in the class-room. Teacher, leave them kids alone. Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone! All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.”

Everybody is singing along, lots of loud cheers and “woo-woo”s are erupting from the audience (especially from drunk Americans) and I’m remembering how this was the very first song by Pink Floyd I ever heard that got me to take notice of Pink Floyd, and eventually to buy the whole The Wall album (once I realized “Comfortably Numb” was also on it).

The second verse is even more memorable as it’s where the kids sing the lines, and Roger’s got a troupe of kids who come out on the stage and sing the verse before breaking into an awesome dance-session during the always-excellent instrumental section. The giant-inflatable teacher is lowered and the kids do a bit with that before leaving the stage.

Leave them kids alone.

Then the music changes to an unfamiliar piece of music at the end of the song, presumably to give the stage-hands some time to get things prepared for the next piece.

But on the second night in Berlin, this unfamiliar piece of music goes on for a bit longer. Roger steps back out center-stage and…what’s this? He’s singing new lyrics! For a moment the significance of what’s happening doesn’t register in my mind, but then I suddenly realize that this didn’t happen the other two nights. I tell Oliver as much, then take out my camera and start a video, only to capture the last couple of lines of the song.

Mother

This is when Roger pauses for a moment to welcome the audience and say a few words specific to where he is. In Mannheim he’d mentioned a few dates and places and asked if anyone in the audience remembered them—which I believe were dates and locations of previous shows he’d done in Germany. In Berlin, on both nights, he mentioned the Potzdamer Platz show and how that was a night he’d never forget. On the second night, he started by confirming that the extra lyrics to “Another Brick in the Wall” he’d just sung were indeed new—that it was the first time he’d ever done that. So I got to witness just a minor little bit of Pink Floyd history!

But whatever minor variations he makes to it based on where he is, the speech apparently always ends the same way. Back when they did The Wall the first time, they recorded a video in England of Roger playing “Mother” at Earl’s Court, so “as an experiment in time-travel, and at the risk of seeming somewhat narcissistic” Roger shall now “endeavor to sing a double-track vocal and play acoustic guitar along with a younger, miserable, fucked-up Roger from all those years ago.”

And so the projection on the wall during “Mother” is just Roger Waters from 1980 playing Mario was here? “Mother” at Earl’s Court. There are also a few little extra goodies, most notably what happens when he sings “Mother, should I trust the government?” On the right side of the wall the words, “No Fucking Way” appear, and on the left the words, “Auf Keinen Fall”. I assume the words on the left are some version of “under no circumstances” in whatever the native language of the country he’s in happens to be. The crowd, of course, loves it.

In the new version of the show, “Mother” is apparently a metaphor for the government, and there’s an animated security camera on the screen the whole time, the Big Brother who always keeps its eye on you, that “will always find out where you’ve been”.

Goodbye Blue Sky

One of my favorites in terms of the wall-projections is the new take on “Goodbye Blue Sky”. The Gerald Scarfe animation for the film is probably the best of all the animations in the film (it’s certainly his favorite) and while it may be somewhat disappointing that they go with a different animation, it’s reminiscent enough of the original to stay true to its spirit only with a meaning much more relevant to the world today.

“Did you see the frightened ones? Did you hear the falling bombs? Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath the clear blue sky?” These lyrics and the original animation for them were clearly inspired by the memories of English children during the war as the Germans repeatedly bombed London.

Blurry logos raining. The updated animation for the show, while still featuring war-planes dropping bombs, puts a different twist on it as the bombs are all in the shapes of various symbols. First the Christian cross, then the hammer-and-sickle of communism, and several other political and religious symbols including the dollar sign. But then the bombs start taking the shape of corporate logos, first Shell then Mercedes and McDonalds so on. For some reason, the crowd in Germany started applauding wildly when the Shell and Mercedes logos were dropped. Are they applauding because they like those companies or because they hate them? I could never quite figure that out.

But the meaning is clear enough for any idiot to understand. Whereas the fascist-dictator types of yester-year made their attempts at world-domination with bombs, today’s fascist-dictators are in the form of corporations or religions, whose attempts to spread their ideologies and/or products are just as much an act of violence as the bombings of London in WWII.

It’s absolutely brilliant, and Oliver remarked as much on Thursday night. But for me, at least on that night, the experience was somewhat ruined by the drunk American and his wife who had left before “Mother” and returned now with fresh beer and pretzels. Irony.

Empty Spaces

I fucking love this piece of music, but most people find the animation far more memorable. EvenBlurry flowers fucking. before I saw the film I always found this part of the album particularly intense and moving, but of course Gerald Scarfe’s animation of the two flowers that look like they’re fucking is an incredibly powerful image. The real treat of seeing it live is that while you can watch the original animation on the screen, it’s extended down to the wall—which at this point is really coming along. You see the flowers on the screen but their stems on the wall, so it’s like you’re finally getting to see the whole image of something you’ve only partially seen before.

What Shall We Do Now?

I always hated how they cut this from the studio album, as it’s one of my favorite pieces of music of the whole show due to its power and intensity. Seeing it live is really something else because the intensity is at its maximum potential and you can really feel the music blasting through your body.

It’s the same animation from the film after the female flower devours the male and flies away, only it’s much bigger because it’s being projected across the entire wall. “What shall we use to fill the empty spaces where waves of hunger gnaw? Shall we set out across this sea of faces in search of more and more applause?”

The banging of the drums, the iconic image of the face emerging from the wall and screaming (I bought a T-Shirt with that image on Wednesday night and wore it on Thursday), and then the powerful litany of lyrics which I couldn’t resist but loudly sing along to (accompanied by my drunk American friend, of course) while making sure to really derive as much appreciation of those lyrics as I could because this would be the last time.

“What shall we do now?” is a song about the wall itself, about the things we do from behind our walls and some of the things we use to help build them. It’s one of the most angry pieces of music Pink Floyd ever did, and I’ve listened to it many many times while furious about the bullshit circumstances of modern life that we’re trapped in. “Shall we buy a new guitar? Shall we drive a more powerful car? Shall we work straight through the night? Shall we get into fights, leave the lights on, drop bombs, do tours of the east, contract diseases, bury bones, break up homes, send flowers by phone, take to drink, go to shrinks, keep people as pets, train dogs, race rats, fill the attic with cash, bury treasure, store up leisure, but never relax at all…with our backs to the wall?”

My heart is racing a mile a minute when it’s finally over.

Young Lust

This is one of the only three songs from The Wall that David Gilmour has a writing credit for, and it’s the least good one by far. In fact it’s one of my least favorite songs on the album and one that if I hear out-of-context on the radio I barely even enjoy. It doesn’t really work too well on its own, but heard in context it’s still a perfect part of a perfect album.

The projections on the wall during this song get a little X-rated, and I’d be surprised if Roger didn’t get some complaints from parents in the United States who were dumb enough to take their kids to see Pink Floyd’s The Wall and expect it to be family-friendly. There’s a very long section with a topless woman dancing, which I’m sure doesn’t phase a European audience at all and the few parents with kids their probably didn’t care.

On the radio the song can sometimes sound like garbage, but live before your eyes it sounds fantastic and it’s even hard not to dance to. Not a highlight, really, but not a lowlight by any means.

One of My Turns

The next couple of songs are a bit strange for a rock concert due to the subject matter. “One of My Turns” opens with a film-projection of Pink’s girlfriend coming into the hotel room and doing her whole, “Oh my god, what a fabulous room!” monologue.

The song itself is very dark and melancholy at first, and while most of the audience seems to fade out at this point there are always a few cheers at the opening line: “Day after day, love turns gray, like the skin of a dying man.” I was surprised-but-not-all-that-shocked to hear the drunk American singing along to that, as he did…after all…have his wife right next to him.

I like the song for its sudden switch from melancholy to rage as the music picks up speed and Roger sings the angry lyrics: “Run to the bedroom, in the suitcase on the left you’ll find my favorite axe…” and runs around the stage. On Wednesday night when I was up in the stands he sang most of the song right in my direction, and I put my hands up and waved a lot in case he might notice. I think he might have because I was the only person in the section who appeared to be getting into it, and I’m pretty sure he pointed right at me when he sang, “Would you like to learn to fly?”

Don’t Leave Me Now

This is the darkest, most subdued song on the album and it’s almost hard to listen to, so it’s very strange and even a little uncomfortable to see it live. He’s singing about how desperately he wants his woman back in spite of how badly he treated her. There’s a picture of a woman’s face projected on the right side of the wall and as he sings lines like, “I need you, babe, to put through the shredder in front of my friends” or “to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night” blood starts pouring from her nose and eyes.

Ooooooh babe...I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, but when the American guy started singing along to this song I could hardly believe it. He even told his wife that it was his favorite part. On the other two nights the audience was a little disturbed by this, but here was a guy who was loving it. So on the one hand while it totally ruined the mood to have someone singing along enthusiastically to such a dark and disturbing piece of music, it was at least nice to know that someone was appreciating it.

But once he sings, “Why are you running away?” and the music picks up, the piece becomes extremely impressive visually as the inflatable wife drops down on the left and green slime appears to drip down the wall in a projection. It’s actually one of the most powerful visual moments of the first half of the show.

Another Brick in the Wall, Part III

Suddenly you hear the sound of a TV station switching, there’s a projection of a French guy on the TV apparently selling something, and this goes on long enough for you to get really annoyed by his face and voice. Then there’s the famous scream and the sound of something smashing against the screen. The channel switches to a brief clip of Barack Obama saying something about national security, something smashes the screen again, and it keeps dividing into smaller and smaller fragments with more and more stations blasting at once until one final smash gets the lyrics going:

“I don’t need no arms around me. And I don’t need no drugs to calm me.” Because they reprise the most famous song of the album and because they capture the entire meaning of the first half, I’ve always considered these to be among the most powerful lyrics on the whole album, and I sang along with them while making sure to appreciate their meaning. “I have seen the writing on the wall. Don’t think I need anything at all. No, don’t think I need anything at all! All in all it was all just bricks in the wall. All in all you were all just bricks in the wall.”

The Last Few Bricks

The climax of the first half of the show gets under way as this piece of music not-on-the-album Last few bricks (Mannheim photo)blares forth. It’s a completely instrumental number reprising “The Happiest Days of our Lives”, “Young Lust”, and “Empty Spaces” which as the title suggests provides enough time for the stage-hands to insert the last few bricks into the now almost-finished wall.

It’s a rousing piece of music that gets everyone going again after the last few more-subdued numbers, and visually it’s also one of the most remarkable. It looks as though some of the bricks are flying away even as they put more bricks in, and it was enough to make Oliver go “what the fuck?” before he realized it was just a projection.

Goodbye, Cruel World

I didn’t have a clear view of this iconic moment from the show on my first two nights because the angle was wrong, but from straight ahead I could see Roger singing the last few lines of the first half of the show through the last remaining hole in the wall. It’s a pretty powerful moment and would be even moreso if there wasn’t a bunch of “woo-woo”ing going on the whole time, and my drunk friend sucked up most of the potential for appreciating it by singing along loudly, but once Roger sings, “Goodbye all you people, there’s nothing you can say to make me change my mind…goodbye” and they put that last brick into place…you can’t help but feel chills.

Intermission

On Wednesday night, the guy on my right who had come because he’d missed the Potzdamer Platz show twenty years earlier was clearly impressed by the first half of the show. When it was over he turned to me and said, “finish?” and I laughed because I thought he was joking. But when he didn’t come back during the second half, I realized that he’d probably thought that was the whole show. The poor guy had paid for the ticket and gone to all the trouble of coming there just to see a show he’d missed twenty years ago and now he missed the entire second half! It’s possible he found a better seat somewhere but he didn’t strike me as the type to go looking for one. I’m almost positive he left half-way through and while I feel bad for him, apparently he felt like he’d gotten his money’s worth anyway.

I can just picture him describing the show to his friends: “You’ll never believe it. They built an entire wall across the stage! It was incredible!” And if his friends know anything more about it, they’ll ask, “And how about when they knocked it down at the end of the show?” And he’ll say, “No, they didn’t knock it down,” to which they’ll respond, “Are you sure?” and he’ll say, “No, they just built the wall and it was over,” and they’ll say, “Um…we’re pretty sure the wall comes down at the end of the show…did you only stay for the first half?” And he’ll say, “There was a second half?” and then he’ll either break into tears or hysterical laughter.

Funnily enough, on Thursday night the people to Oliver’s right turned to ask him if that was the end of the show, so apparently people thought the first half was impressive enough to stand on its own as a complete show in its own right.

Intermission on Thursday was also when I talked to the American couple and made peace with the drunk guy, right before I embarked on a long and treacherous journey to the restroom.

During intermission the projections on the wall are all of pictures of people who died and sent in pictures and information about their lost loved ones to Roger who includes them in the show. It’s a really lovely thing to do, and I made sure to read about at least a few of them.

The wall at intermission (Mannheim photo)

On Thursday I also took some time before the second half started to explain to Oliver how the whole concept of The Wall stage-show came to Roger, how after the success of Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd started playing bigger and bigger gigs and the audience was composed less and less of true Pink Floyd fans and more of just generic rock-and-roll fans who were there for the spectacle and not really to listen to the music. Feeling increasingly cut off from the audience, Roger came up with the idea of actually building a wall between the band and the audience, and in the music made a more universally-appealing story by including different themes of isolation that work on a personal as well as a political level.

Oliver commented on how ironic it was that they were playing at this big corporate arena and all this capitalist-bullshit was going on when the show itself had a message that was very much against that sort of thing. Exactly.

Hey You

I feel like I’m writing this about almost every song, but “Hey You” really is one of my favorite songs from The Wall (it’s David Gilmour’s favorite, incidentally) so of course hearing it live is great. The only problem is that it starts before much of the audience has finished going to the bathroom and buying more beer, so people are continuing to flood back in throughout half the song.

There’s not much going on visually during this song either, as the entire band is behind the wall and there’s nothing but a still and solid projection of stone bricks across the wall to give it more texture. But there is a little animation going on during the awesome guitar solo in the middle, culminating with the famous lines: “But it was only a fantasy. The wall was too high, as you can see. No matter how he tried, he could not break free. And the worms ate into his brain.”

I sang along with my drunk American friend, now seated in the seat right next to me where I knew he would remain. He’d taken my hand as the song began and expressed his appreciation at being able to share the experience with a fellow fan. My feelings were mixed but if I was going to enjoy it I had no choice. “Together we stand. Divided we fall.”

Is There Anybody Out There?

A giant pair of eyes are projected on the wall and the spotlight shines down on random audience-members as the band sings the line “Is there anybody out there?” four times until the soft, lovely melody takes over.

Alone in the dark, it’s a much different song. When I was a teenager I’d ask myself “is there anybody out there?” and it had a real meaning to my lonely, isolated self. But here and now, there were lots of people “out there” and they clapped and cheered whenever the question was asked.

I made peace with the fact that this is what seeing The Wall live is like—it’s not going to be anything like it was when I first fell in love with the album and listened to it alone in the dark every night. While I may have been able to have a few fleeting flash-backs to the emotions of that time, this was an experience of an entirely different nature, and rather than lament what it might have been had I been able to see it during that period of my life, I should simply appreciate it for what it meant to me now.

Nobody Home

Another sad, slow song, this one dominated by piano. Part of the wall, the far-left part that’s already built even when the show begins, opens up to reveal a little mock-up hotel room with Roger seated on a chair in front of a table and a desk with a TV as he sings the song. “Got a little black book with my poems in…”

Got 13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from. This was actually most enjoyable for me on Wednesday night, as from my seat way off to stage-right I was much closer to Roger than I was from stage-center or stage-left as I’d been in Mannheim. As I snapped a few photos it occurred to me that it was probably the closest I had ever physically been to Roger Waters and the closest I’d ever be. When he turned around to sing to our section of audience I made sure to wave again, and to take note of the fact that this was the only time I could really make out his facial expressions with my naked eye.

Also from that vantage point I was able to see what was playing on the TV-screen, just some stock footage of warplanes that I then noticed was also being projected across the wall at large.

Vera

This is a beautiful song and probably the most under-appreciated of the album. It’s very short and very sad, with simple yet powerful words. “Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? Remember how she said that we would meet again some sunny day?”

When I saw Roger on the Dark Side of the Moon tour with my friend Corey who loves this song, he played it as part of the encore and it was so unexpected that nothing will ever compare to the feeling we got then. Knowing that it was coming was something different.

But there’s a short little video I don’t understand that plays when he sings, “Vera, what has become of you? Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?” of a young girl in a classroom who starts off smiling and then suddenly bursts into tears, walks up to the teacher and wraps herself in his arms, apparently having just heard or witnessed something devastating. But the others in the video are still smiling, and the whole audience starts applauding. Not knowing the context I just found it to be a very moving little piece of video and I feel strong empathy for that girl, but maybe it’s a more well-known video and I’m just missing the point entirely because I don’t know the context.

Bring the Boys Back Home

When Roger played this during the Dark Side tour, I was so moved that I sang at the top of my lungs so loudly and strongly that I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger heard me all the way from on stage. I had wanted the American audience to listen to the fucking words and think about them, as their timeless and universal relevance is even more relevant to America today: “Bring the boys back home. Don’t leave the children on their own…no…no. Bring the boys back home.”

Again, knowing it was coming made it slightly less moving during the show, but the projection on the wall made it very powerful nonetheless. With scenes of war and destruction following one after another, a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower is cut up and projected line-by-line across the wall between the scenes:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Powerful words, never more powerfully delivered.

Comfortably Numb

Just as your chills from “Bring the Boys Back Home” are subsiding, you hear the sound of knocking, the voices saying, “Hello? Time to go…he keeps hanging up…it’s a man answering…hello?…time to go…are you feeling okay?…” and the chills immediately start up again. The drunk American next to you says “time to go” and you take a deep breath. You hear the hum of the voices grow louder and louder drowning out the chaos until suddenly, one last “is there anybody out there?” and then…

The first note. The chills reach their maximum intensity. “Hello…hello…hello…is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home? Come on…come on…now…I hear you’re feeling down. I can ease the pain…get you on your feet again. Relax…relax…relax…I need some information first. Just the basic facts. Can you show me where it hurts?”

What can be said about the best song of all time performed in its full context live before your very eyes? It’s the best thing in the world, one of the most awesome and intense experiences that someone who appreciates the music as much as I do can ever experience.

The thing is—I’ve now seen it live seven times. The last three were at these shows, the time previously was The Australian Pink Floyd (if you want to say that doesn’t count, you’ve never seen them do it), before then were the two Dark Side tour shows—the second of which was the second-most intensely awesome concert experience of my life—and the very first was and always will be the most intensely awesome experience of my life, concert or otherwise: seeing the one-time-only Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8.

So unfortunately it loses a little bit of its power by the seventh time, but that’s not to say it doesn’t still reach deep into my soul and rip it into a billion tiny little shreds. It’s only to say that during the verses it’s harder to stay in the moment, to not think about the guy next to me, to not try and compare it in my head to all the other times I’ve seen it and to think about how the meaning has changed since all those years ago alone in the dark.

But when the final verse is sung it all comes around, because the difference in who I am between then and now is one of the elements of the song’s meaning, and recognizing how after all these years the song still holds such a revered place in my soul in spite of everything that’s changed is enough to put my mind right where it needs to be to appreciate the solo: “When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye…I turned to look but it was gone…I cannot put my finger on it now…the child is grown, the dream is gone. And I have become comfortably numb…”

From behind the wall, a singer rises on the left to sing the choruses, and the guitarist rises up to play the first instrumental and then the heavy guitar solo at the end—the most awesome piece of music of all time. I hadn’t seen them on my first night because my view was blocked, but when I noticed them on the second night I got chills. On the third night, seeing them both from straight on, it was something else entirely.

Roger moves around the stage and bangs at the wall as the solo gradually increases in intensity, and I’m sinking more and more into the music and squeezing out every ounce of appreciation I possibly can from what is likely to be the last time I’ll ever see it live (I’m greatly relieved that my drunk neighbor is lost in silent appreciation as well), and then the projected wall breaks open to reveal a shining sun behind as the song reaches its climax.

The most intensely-felt notes are always right at the very end when you know the solo is just about to wrap up and there are only a few seconds left before this incredible experience is transformed into a mere memory—a memory you’ll take with you for the rest of your life. When it is finally over, you (if you’re like me) immediately rise to your feet and applaud furiously, then turn to your friend and exchange a few “wow”s and “holy fucking shit, man”s.

That’s the highlight of the show, but it’s far from over.

The Show Must Go On

It’s almost impossible to follow “Comfortably Numb” with any other song, especially on the radio when it’s almost always something incredibly weak by comparison. When Pink Floyd without Roger went on tour it was usually an encore and usually followed by “Run Like Hell”, and when Roger went on tour he either followed it with a song called “Each Small Candle” which is brilliant or, on the Dark Side tour, that was simply the very last song.

But the only song that is a truly perfect follow-up to “Comfortably Numb” is “The Show Must Go On”. It’s nice and soft and melodic and lovely, the perfect lead-out from what came before and lead-in to what comes next.

In the show, this is the moment when most of the band now relocates to the front of the wall so you can see them for most of the rest of the show. You also get the additional verse which isn’t on the studio album but I know from the live album. It introduces the next part of the story in which Pink now descends into madness and sees himself as a fascist dictator. “It was just a mistake, I didn’t mean to let them take away my soul. Am I too old, is it too late? Where’s the feeling gone? Will I remember the song? The show must go on…”

In The Flesh

Roger Waters loves to perform this live. It was the opening song of the show on his last two tours, and it works well as an opener but even better in context. He’s there dressed in his fascist uniform, the wall is covered with awesome projections of the double-hammer emblem, and the spotlight shines on random members of the audience as he points them out and demands that they get “up against the wall.”

When he says, “If I had my way, I’d have all of you shot” he points to a few audience members, then takes out a fake gun and shoots at them during the end of the song. Ironically, the best vantage point for this was from my seat on the far upper right in Mannheim, as he seemed to be pointing and shooting directly at me.

We're gonna find out where you fans really stand.

It’s quite the spectacle, and it’s probably the most quintessential The Wall you can get—they even bring out the infamous Pig.. During this number you have to just take a step back and appreciate what you’re seeing, especially because you know it’s almost over.

Run Like Hell

After “In The Flesh” Roger steps up and asks, “Are there any paranoids in [insert name of city] tonight?” and a few random people cheer. I’m not a paranoid, so I don’t cheer, and apparently the drunk American isn’t paranoid either because he remains conspicuously silent. To those who do consider themselves paranoid, Roger says “this is for you. It’s called ‘Run Like Hell’” and the song begins.

Like “Young Lust” this is another song written partly by David Gilmour that works faaaar better in context than out of it. At this point in the show people are ready to get on their feet and clap along to what is really the last big rock-and-roll number of the show.

Oliver gets to his feet and claps along right with me, though the guy standing in front is a German guy who really isn’t into it at all and only stands up reluctantly when everyone else does. But his lack of enthusiasm is more than made-up-for by the over-enthusiasm of my drunk friend, whose presence I’ve now completely grown to appreciate (especially after his good behavior during “Comfortably Numb”).

There is a slight bit of awkwardness when it comes to rocking-out to a song like this however, which is augmented by one of the clips that gets played during the solo. It’s a clip I was actually already familiar with, a leaked video from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad that shows the gunner targeting and killing a couple of reporters whom they mistakenly believed had a weapon. From the video, (eventually made famous across the internet under the title ‘Collateral Murder’) it’s clear that the gunner acted impulsively and recklessly, that had he been just a little less trigger-happy he would have confirmed that those people were no threat to anyone. So after watching this tragic scene of two actual people getting killed, it feels very strange to immediately start clapping and dancing again, but there’s a certain artistic irony in that as well.

At the end of the song the names of the aforementioned victims—Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh—are projected onto the wall with the message, “We will remember you.” We certainly will.

Waiting for the Worms

This is another one of those under-appreciated but totally awesome numbers in the show, but it totally kicks ass and I love it. “You cannot reach me now, no matter how you try. Goodbye, cruel world, it’s over…walk on by.” It’s the last truly intense moment before the wall comes down, and it basically serves to make the transition from Pink’s fascist-dictator phase to the moment where he faces judgment. “Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall…waiting for the worms to come. In perfect isolation here behind my wall…waiting for the worms to come.”

All you have to do is follow the worms.

Another one of those iconic moments comes at the end when Roger is ranting and raving through the megaphone and the marching hammers are projected larger-than-life against the wall. That’s one of the most powerful animations of the The Wall film, and also one of the most simple (apparently it’s just eight drawings repeated over and over). Seeing it live is as awesome an experience as you can imagine.

Stop!

Oh man, just thinking about the moment when the incredibly loud, incredibly intense marching beat of the previous song suddenly and without warning stops and the piano takes over for this brief little haunting melody…that’s one of the most awesome moments of the show as well.

“Stop!” Roger sings and everything gets dark and quiet. “I wanna go home!” my drunk neighbor sings so loudly that Roger can probably hear him. “Take off this uniform and leave the show. But I’m waiting in this cell because I have to know…” And I join him in singing the last line because I also have to know: “Have I been guilty all this time?”

The Trial

Some time during the marching hammers, so smoothly that nobody notices, they remove all the instruments from the front of the wall and now the stage is completely bare expect for Roger and his wall.

He moves around the stage and sings all the voices of the characters from the trial while the projection is, with just a few brief exceptions, the exact same animation from the film. “Good morning, Worm, your honour. The crown will plainly show the prisoner who now stands before you was caught red-handed showing feelings…showing feelings of an almost human nature…this will not do.”

"Call the schoolmaster!" The judge calls the schoolmaster who regrets not having “flayed him into shape” because his hands were tied by “the bleeding hearts and artists”.

Then during the “Crazy…toys in the attic I am crazy” part there’s a new animation as it look like the wall detaches from itself and spins around. I couldn’t see it from my vantage point the first two nights but on Thursday I could tell that Roger actually ducks to avoid the projected wall as it looks like it’s going to hit him while it spins.

The wife is called and she lambastes Pink for not talking to her often enough and for going his own way, and the mother comes in to beg the judge to let her take her baby home."Go on, judge! Shit on him!"

Finally, the judge—the giant ass—decides that “the evidence before the court is incontrovertible” and “there’s no need for the jury to retire.” The way Pink made his wife and mother suffer fills him “with the urge to defecate!” A funny little bit of animation that was cut from the film pops up now as another character pokes his head through the wall and cheers him on.

“Since, my friend,” the judge continues, “you have revealed your deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers…tear down the wall!!!

It would have been awesome if the whole audience rose to their feet and started chanting “tear down the wall!” along with the pre-recorded voices from the album, but alas everyone remains seated. Roger runs around the stage, pumping his fists in the air, eliciting some fist-pumps from the crowd, until finally he exits to safety as the wall starts to sway, back, forward, back, and then finally the bricks start toppling over from the top of the wall to the bottom, crashing in a mess at the bottom of the stage.

Outside the Wall

The crowd immediately leaps to its feet in rapturous applause, which continues as the stage-hands push some of the bricks back to make room for the band to come out again and play the final song. Some sit down while they sing, but the true fans remain standing.

“All alone or in twos, the ones who really love you walk up and down outside the wall. Some hand in hand, some gathered together in bands. The bleeding hearts and the artists make their stand. And when they’ve given you their all, some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.”

End of Wednesday's show.

More cheering, a bit more playing, the last two lines are repeated, and then it’s over. Roger thanks the crowd and the cheering and clapping goes on, then the music starts up one more time as each band member walks off the stage to Roger’s introduction and we clap for each of them individually.

Finally Roger thanks the people up on the left, and if it’s Wednesday I’m there to cheer and “woo-woo” when he does. Then he thanks some of the people on the floor and then looks straight ahead and thanks the people in the back. If it’s Thursday, that’s when I cheer and “woo-woo” the loudest. He thanks a few more people up front and then turns to those way up on the right and thanks them up there, and if it’s Friday in Mannheim that’s where I am from which to cheer and “woo-woo” before he finally walks off the stage and leaves.

End of Thursday's show.

If it’s Wednesday in Berlin the crowd stops clapping as soon as he’s gone and the lights go up almost immediately. But if it’s Friday in Mannheim or Thursday in Berlin, the crowd goes on cheering wildly for another five minutes, the sound not dying down at all, until the lights finally go up. On Wednesday Roger only told the audience, “You’ve been very warm and welcoming” but on Thursday he said, “You’ve been a great audience and that means a lot to us” so perhaps he could discern the differences in the crowd on both nights.

From back-stage I’m sure the band could hear us cheering until well after the end of the show and I hope they derive much satisfaction from that even after touring all this time.

Encore?

Unfortunately there can be no encore because the stage is covered in wall-rubble, so when the show is over it’s over. After the lights went up on Thursday night I exchanged a few more words with my drunk American friend, whose name I then learned was Bob. Kind of a coincidence, as I remember talking to a Bob with Corey after our second Dark Side of the Moon show, though I suppose the odds of two random American Pink Floyd fans being named Bob are not that small. We learned he and his wife had been following the European tour for a couple of weeks but that this was their fifth and final show. I wouldn’t have minded seeing it five times either. Hell, I could have done ten or twenty…

Bob explained that he’s been a huge Floyd fan since he was a kid, but that he was only 18 when The Wall was on tour the first time and he missed it. He did see Pink Floyd without Roger Waters but that was the only Floyd show he’d seen before. He said he’d been to a lot of big concerts in his time but this was by far the best. I explained that I was a “next generation” Floyd fan, that I’d discovered The Wall as a teenager and it changed my life, and that I always regretted having never been able to see it live but that now I’d finally fixed that. I didn’t ask about his wife, but she at least enjoyed the music enough to go to these shows with her husband and put up with his behavior during them, so in that regard he’s clearly a lucky guy.

Oliver and I wished Bob and his wife a fond goodbye and then went our merry way. At one point we went out to the balcony of the arena and heard a street musician playing near the parking lot. I wondered if he was a band-member or roadie who just liked to randomly play for the audience as they left the shows, so we decided to check him out. At first I thought that’s what it might be because he didn’t have a hat or a cup or an empty guitar-case out to solicit donations, but after we’d been standing there for awhile and a decent crowd had gathered around him he stopped playing in order to solicit. “For those of you who have a little money and give, I thank you. For those of you who have nothing and give anyway, I really thank you. For those of you who have nothing and don’t give, I thank you anyway. But for those of you who have a little money but don’t give, I’m not gonna say anything because you know who you are.” Very effective. I gave him a few euros.

It was fun to watch him play there in the middle of the road as the cars and the taxis rolled right by, and he was pretty damned good too. Someone asked him to play “Stairway to Heaven” and he did the first couple of verses before getting too bored to continue. He mostly just kept playing a few lines from one song or another and then instantly juxtaposing it with a completely different song, playing everything from “Blue Moon” to “Smoke on the Water” to “No Woman, No Cry”. We stayed there and enjoyed it for about 20-30 minutes. A little encore of our own.

I won’t post the other videos because I don’t want to infringe on any copyrights, but that’s not an issue with this one:

Oliver and I hung out in the general vicinity for a few more hours before going to sleep at our hostel. He told me, as well as his girlfriend Lena when she called him on the phone, that it was easily the best live show he’s ever seen. He’s seen a lot of big concerts including Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, but he said they were shite compared to this.

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As for my impression, I’d say The Wall was easily the most high-quality show I’ve ever seen, but I still enjoyed the Dark Side of the Moon concert with Corey more and I don’t think any show will ever top that. But seeing The Wall with Oliver was easily a close second and I don’t think anything ever will knock it out of that position.

I spent the whole next day and night with Oliver as we drove back from Berlin and I spent the night in Celle with him and his dog, having a very nice time as usual. We were going to cycle around the Steinhuder Meer on Saturday but the forecast called for rain so we had to postpone that, but it was a nice evening anyhow.

But I couldn’t escape the sadness that it’s over now. I’d been looking forward to those shows ever since I bought the tickets a year ago, it was great having them in my future, and now they’re in my past. But such is life. We can only move forward. The show must go on.

The Week Ahead

June 13th, 2011 No comments

I just want to write a very quick piece here as kind of a “programming note” to let people know what lies ahead for me this week if all goes according to plan. It’s going to be one of the most awesome, jam-packed weeks of my entire time in Germany.

We're coming for you.

It’ll start out very slow with just the normal routine until Wednesday afternoon, when I’ll be taking a train to Berlin, checking into a hostel a block away from the O2 Arena where at 8:00 I will get to witness Roger Waters perform The Wall for a second time—this time in Berlin where the idea of a giant wall being built across the stage and then knocked down is likely to elicit more of an emotional response from the audience than in most other cities. Unfortunately my seats will be just as awful as they were in Mannheim, though this time I’ll be far stage-right as opposed to far stage-left.

I’ll head back to the hostel, lie down and catch whatever Zs I possibly can (it’s likely I won’t catch any) before I have to get up and head back to the train station to catch the 4:00 a.m. train back to Hannover. I’ll get back home around 6:30 and have a couple more hours to sleep before going to work from 10:00 to 13:00. My 8:30 course was quite mercifully cancelled, and the two other lessons I have to go to are with two of my favorite students, so that also works out nicely.

Shortly thereafter I’ll meet up with Oliver and we’ll take his car back to Berlin where we will both have the privilege of seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall in Berlin on the second night, making it a grand total of three times that I’ll have seen it. Since it is the most influential album of my life—without a doubt I’d be a much different person than I am today if hadn’t discovered it when I did—I think it’s entirely appropriate.

The third time should also be the best, as not only will I have a friend with me but we will have much better seats, this time on the lower level (not the floor, but the lower stadium-seats) and directly stage-center. I’ll finally be able to see the whole wall from straight on, the way it should be seen.

Oliver apparently has a friend in Berlin who is willing to let us crash at his place, and the next day we’ll head back to Hannover.

Then the next day, Saturday, Oliver and I will meet up again this time for a bicycle-tour we’re going to be taking to the nearby “Steinhuder Meer”—a very large lake that will take many hours to circumnavigate. We’ll drive there with a couple of bikes, a case of beers, and Oliver’s dog, and ride until the evening at which point it’s assumed we’ll pitch a tent somewhere and camp overnight. We’ll finish the tour on Sunday and ride back.

We're coming for you, too!

That’s the very-awesome near future. The slightly-less-near future is also awesome, as I’ll only have two more weeks of work and then a long summer vacation involving a return to America before heading off to Japan in August.

2011, you kick ass!!!

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Ignore the Koch Brothers, talk about Weiner!

June 10th, 2011 No comments

I know. This whole “the media ignores important substantive issues and focuses only on trivial nonsense”-theme is old and tired, but sometimes the contrast between what ought to be getting attention and what’s getting all the attention is so overwhelmingly stark that it begs to be commented on.

weiner

Elected officials have been doing terrible, despicable things throughout history. Even if we focus on just the last ten years, we can point to politicians who have done things as awful as secretly torturing prisoners, stripping citizens of their rights and civil liberties, collaborating with health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to kill legislation that would save lives, taking food off the table of poor families in order to give tax-cuts to corporations, deliberately obstructing an economic recovery just to hurt a president’s chances of re-election, encouraging foreign leaders to enact violently anti-gay policies, starting unnecessary wars to make private contractors richer, and on and on. Every single day, hundreds if not thousands of politicians at various levels of government across the country do horrible, downright evil things.

But one guy sends some dirty pictures to women who aren’t his wife, and that is unacceptable. Torture whoever you like, start as many wars based on phony justifications as you want, take as much money from corporations in exchange for hurting the poor as your heart desires, but flirt with girls on Twitter and you are done, sir!

This week, the whole absurd fiasco over Congressman Weiner’s wiener (much of which I admit he brought on himself by handling it so poorly) completely overshadowed a story involving not just a faaaar more egregious crime than being a bit of a pervert, but also something far more important with far more real-life consequences for the American people.

Charles_David_Koch

Politico reported that our old friends the Koch brothers (oil-industry billionaires), through their Tea Party front-group Americans for Prosperity, is launching a nation-wide campaign to blame high gas prices on President Obama. It’s his excessive zeal for environmental protection, they say, his draconian over-regulation of the oil industry, that’s responsible for the high prices at the pump. The only solution? Drill for more oil, obviously.

Never mind that Obama’s record on environmental protection is virtually non-existent. He not only did agree to open up more territory for oil drilling, but even after imposing a perfectly sensible moratorium on drilling after the BP disaster, he’s recently begun handing out new drilling permits in spite of the fact that the problems which caused that disaster haven’t been fixed. Obama’s refusal to “drill baby drill”, as any sane observer would be able to tell, is not the reason for high gas prices.

What is the reason? Who are the real culprits? Ironically, the Koch Brothers themselves might bear the most responsibility.

Most people who know anything about the issue know that that it’s speculation in the oil markets rather than actual worldwide supply of oil that drives gas prices. Not only do corporations like Koch Industries drive up the price of oil by betting on derivatives (much like the betting in the housing market that led to the 2008 financial crisis), but they use their own resources to artificially manipulate the price in order to boost their profits. Back in April, Think Progress explained how this game works:

In 2008, Koch called attention to itself for “contango” oil market manipulation. A commodity market is said to be in contango when future prices are expected to rise, that is, when demand is expected to outstrip supply. Big banks and companies like Koch employ a contango strategy by buying up oil and storing it in massive containers both on land and offshore to lock in the oil for sale later at a set price. In December of 2008, Koch leased “four supertankers to hold oil in the U.S. Gulf Coast to take advantage of rising prices in the months ahead.” Writing about Koch’s contango efforts to artificially drive down supply, Fortune magazine writer Jon Birger noted they could be raising “gasoline prices by anywhere from 20 to 40 cents a gallon” at the time.

This week, Think Progress posted a special report detailing exactly how Koch Industries rose to become the most powerful force in the oil market, from inventing oil derivatives in the first place (there was no such thing before 1986) to aggressively lobbying to deregulate the trading of these derivatives and thus allowing them to basically do to the price of oil whatever they please.

For most people, myself included, this is a complex issue and it’s hard to wrap our heads around it. But it certainly sounds as though the Koch brothers are deliberately keeping gas prices high—deliberately making life more difficult for middle class Americans whose livelihoods depend on their ability to drive to and from work—so that they can then turn around and lie to those people and get them to blame the president so that someone more friendly to their industry can take his place in 2013. That’s almost as despicable as taking a picture of yourself in your underwear…

I could be completely wrong about all this. I’m no financial expert and I know almost nothing about the oil industry, and the leftist sources I get this information from could very well be skewing it to fit their ideology.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if we had some kind of institution in this country that investigated these issues, obtained all the facts, and objectively presented them to the American people with clear explanations so that we’d all have a better understanding of how our system works?

Instead we have a bonanza of talking heads chattering about whether we’ll get to see more embarrassing pictures of a congressman’s junk. But at least most of them preface their comments by saying, “I wish we were talking about something else.”

That says it all, doesn’t it? Even the people caught up in this circus can see how woefully pathetic it is. That’s what happens when “news” is no longer treated as a valuable, essential element of democratic society, but as just another form of entertainment from which to earn a profit.

Of the three main focuses of this blog post—the Koch brothers, the media, and Anthony Weiner—the one who has done the least harm to this country by far is Anthony Weiner.

Outside The Wall

June 4th, 2011 No comments

When I heard last year that Roger Waters was going on tour to perform The Wall again for the first time in my lifetime, I immediately went and bought tickets for the first show he’d be doing in Germany, which was yesterday in Mannheim. It later occurred to me that it would be even cooler to see the show in Berlin—I can think of fewer cities in the world in which “the wall” concept would have more significance within the people’s living memory—so I bought tickets for that as well.

Official Roger Waters website.

I had no idea that the concert would happen to fall right on the day after the last day of Rheinfest, and I would have stayed in Ichenheim at least another day if it hadn’t. But I had to alter my plans and buy a ticket to Mannheim for Friday afternoon and another from Mannheim back to Hannover this morning.

Yesterday morning I was relieved to find that I wasn’t too hung over—no headache or throwing up—but I was significantly out of it to the point where going to see a concert I’ve been wanting to see for my entire life seemed like too much too fast, especially considering the emotional significance of what had transpired the previous night.

I also want to correct the record and say that contrary to what I’d been thinking when I wrote the first paragraph of the previous entry, that was absolutely not the most drunk I’ve ever been in Germany. After writing that and posting it I began to remember all kinds of wilder nights, from all-night-long parties during my exchange student year in Frankfurt to the madness of the Berlin pub-crawl, I have in fact been significantly more hammered in this country than I was that night—though that at least made the Top 10.

Anyway, back to the story. It was a fond farewell to my family in Ichenheim, something I hadn’t been looking forward to but which went well enough. I hate goodbyes, and I know it could be quite a number of years before I see any of those people again, but at least I’m fairly confident I’ll make it back before too long. By then, Myriam will have had her first child (I found out this visit that she’d gotten pregnant—something she’d always wanted but didn’t think she could) and things will be much different.

[At this point I want to warn readers that unless you are a Pink Floyd fan I can’t imagine anything other than severe boredom being your reaction to the rest of this entry, so you might consider skipping it.]

After being dropped off at the Offenburg station I took the 50-minute train ride to Mannheim while listening to Wish You Were Here, then took a cab from the station to my hotel because I was carrying a bag that weighs almost half as much as I do. I checked into my single room (as I get older I find the extra price of privacy while travelling to be well worth the cost) and attempted to take a little nap before going to the concert, as I was still dead tired. But it was too noisy outside and I had too much on my mind, so I just lied there for about an hour until 7:00, one hour before the concert.

“Man, I do not feel like going to a Pink Floyd show right now,” I said to myself before leaving. “Maybe I’ll just stay here.” Haha.

At least by then I was feeling better physically, although mentally I was still very out-of-it and not sure that my emotional state would be conducive at all to the special meaning The Wall holds for me personally. I’d just spent the last week doing battle with my wall, smashing away some of those bricks to what I certainly consider great success. The Wall is a very depressing piece of music, and I was rather happy. Still, I would just have to go and do my best to get into it, and the whole time I could take comfort in the fact that if I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I should, I’d have another chance in a couple of weeks in Berlin.

I reached the SAP-arena with about ten minutes to go before 8:00, but I needed a drink of water so I waited at the first service stand I came to. Beer and bratwurst were being served like at all German concerts, but much to the credit of the crowd, no one seemed to by buying the wurst. Seriously—bratwurst and The Wall just do not go together.

But lots of people were buying lots of beer and the line was taking forever. I was so worried that I was going to miss the beginning of the show that I asked the guys standing in front of me if they could order a water for me if I paid them for it, and they agreed but the water dispenser ran out of water just as mine was getting poured so it took another five minutes to get it. I hurried off to find my seat and discovered—naturally—another service stand just a bit further down the hall with no line whatsoever. Live and learn.

Luckily though, the show hadn’t started yet. I found my seat and was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Disappointed because it was way off to the side and in the very back row, The cheap seats.and relieved because there was nobody directly in front of me to block my view like back at the Australian Pink Floyd show. The people around me also seemed to be okay, the guy on my left just quietly enjoying the show and the couple on my right drinking and singing along a bit but not obnoxiously so. The arena was apparently not completely sold out because there were a few open seats to the right of the couple on my right and the row in front of them, but other than a few scattered seats at the very back it was completely full.

I’d apparently just got there in the nick of time, because less than five minutes after I sat down the show began. When the first notes of “Outside the Wall” began playing softly I got all Enigmal, and again when the first notes of “In the Flesh?” blasted suddenly forth to interrupt the quieter music. And then there was Roger Waters literally in the flesh, walking triumphantly out on stage to the massive cheering of the crowd. This was the fourth time I’ve actually seen him in the flesh, the first being at Live 8 with the rest of Pink Floyd (best concert experience I’ve ever had or ever will have) and the other two times as solo concerts of his with Corey (the second of which was the second-best concert experience I’ve ever had or will have). Roger waved up in my direction as he entered, so perhaps he saw me and remembered me from the other three times…

What to say about the show? Of course it was fantastic, musically perfect and visually stunning, a concert experience leaving absolutely nothing to be desired. Watching them gradually build that wall across the entire stage during the first half of the show is certainly a sight worth seeing, and of course the music is some of the best music ever made.

There was a heavy political element to the show with quite a few projections containing anti-war messages and things of the sort, but I’ll be much better able to comment on them after seeing the show a second time. For now I’ll just keep the description mostly limited to my own personal experience. Regarding that, I certainly enjoyed it thoroughly and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but I can’t help attaching a “but” to the whole thing.

Actually, I have to attach two “but”s to it. The first was the fact that I have a camera now and had to deal with the whole annoying mental struggle of should I or should I not attempt to take pictures or videos of the show? I always looked at people who take their shitty little cameras to rock concerts with contempt as they take their blurry photos and the poor-sound-quality videos, but now I was one of them. I figured I should take a few to see how they would come out, but every time I did it would mitigate my enjoyment of the song somewhat because I was more focused on the photo than the music. I also decided to try the video during “The Happiest Days or Our Lives” and the first verse of “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” because that was about as iconic Wall as it gets (and I’ve already seen it live several times), but nothing particularly visually interesting happened until the second verse, when a chorus of kids came out to sing the verse and then do some excellent dancing during the guitar solos. As much as I was enjoying it I was also thinking, “damn me, I should have taken the video now.”Not blurry but still not worth it.

Now that I’ve checked the photos and videos it’s clear that it’s probably not worth it to make a  second attempt at the next concert and that I should just enjoy the music, but while most of the photos were just a useless blur I did get a few nice ones, and the video I took—when the camera wasn’t shaking—actually came out much better than I’d thought it would, allowing me to see more detail in Roger’s face that I could with my naked eyes from where I was sitting.

I really should have taken a video just before “Mother”, as this is apparently when Roger takes a moment to talk to the audience, and what he says is probably different for every show. He mentioned a couple of dates and nearby cities to the audience, saying, “Does anyone here remember such-and-suchadate in Dortmund? I was there. I remember it well.” No idea what he was referring to, but had I taken a video I would have been able to look it up. At least I’ll definitely get a video during that part of the show in Berlin.

One thing of note is that during one of the songs, a bunch of highly recognizable brand logos are projected falling down the wall, and one of the first to show up was the Mercedes logo. Apparently a lot of people in Mannheim work at the Mercedes plant because the logo got a very loud and ironic applause. There were also a few German phrases projected on the wall at random points like when he sang “Mother, should I trust the government?” there was “No Fucking Way” written on the right side of the wall and “Auf Keinen Fall” on the left, which also got a big applause.

The other “but” regarding the enjoyment of the experience is the more important “but” and it had to do with my emotional state.  During "The Last Few Bricks"As I said, The Wall is very depressing and I was feeling good, too good to really get into a lot of the songs the way I used to. The Wall meant so much to me in my youth because it was the first album I ever heard that really spoke to me deeply and made me feel like some of what was in my soul was also apparently in the souls of the writers of this music, and it greatly influenced how I look at life. I’ve since bought every single Pink Floyd album ever made and now listen to The Wall with probably the least frequency out of all of them (except perhaps the Ummagumma studio album). The fact is I’ve grown up a lot since those angst-ridden days of my youth, I’m not as stuck behind my own private wall as I used to be (though it certainly still exists—as last Sunday’s journal entry made clear), and the music was more of a nostalgia-trip than a genuine emotional experience.  Had I been able to see the show as a teenager, it would easily have been the experience of a lifetime.

Ironically, had things gone worse for me on that last day in Ichenheim I probably would have appreciated the show more as well. If I’d had terrible failure with the girls-of-interest, been too scared to try and talk to them and just ridden the emotional downward spiral all the way down like I had on Sunday, I would probably have been more into it. But a lot of the lyrics which would have really touched me had that been the case just kind of bounced off of me as I realized I don’t actually feel that way anymore—that I can no longer stretch the metaphor to identify with the character Pink the way I used to.

Although I suppose, in the end, that’s a good thing.

I switched seats during the intermission to get a slightly improved view, and took a picture of the completely-built wall which had projections of pictures of people who’d been killed by violence in the Middle East that had been sent in by family members. The pictures would change every few minutes, and at one point I looked over and noticed a face and name I actually recognized: Neda Agha-Soltan, the Iranian woman whom I’d written about during the Green Revolution in Iran a couple of years ago, the one whose gruesome death from a bullet-wound was caught on film and spread across the internet like wild-fire. That had a profound effect on me when I saw it, and it touched me to see her face among all those others.

In Memoriam The one in fifty-million who can help us to be free.

For the second half of the show I’d resolved not to take any more pictures, but there were some I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, most are just blurs anyway.

The highlight of the show, naturally, is Comfortably Numb, and while it was certainly awesome and certainly affected me deeply like it always does when I hear it live, there was just something that detracted from it because the guitarist was behind the wall while he played the solo. Snowy White did such a damn fine job of it that I wanted to be able to see him, but instead it was just Roger banging at the wall while the lights and projections provide all the fodder for the eyes. Still, those projections got increasingly awesome until an amazing climax where it looks like the wall opens up and the sun shines through it. When it was over the crowd went wild—I assume most of them haven’t heard the song live before—and the applause lasted for a solid five minutes if not longer. I heard the couple next to me say, “Das ist richtig gut Pink Floyd Musik.”

After the lovely “The Show Must Go On” interlude (at which point they brought some of the band members and their instruments back in front of the wall again) came the full-length “In The Flesh” and after Roger sings “if I had my way, I’d have all of you shot!” he points to a few people in the audience, then takes out a fake gun and fires at them. He pointed and fired directly at me, probably because—as I said—he recognized me from the other shows I’ve been to.

After “The Trial” came the big finale when they actually knock down this whole gigantic wall they spent the first half of the show building, and I took a video of it which I won’t make the mistake of trying again because the light was low and it barely came out.

With all the rubble on the stage now it was clear there would be no encore. Only the whole “Outside the Wall” song and then final bows. He gave the audience a lot of Most of the photos came out worse than this.heart-felt thank yous, and I’m sure he really felt it too because the audience had been wonderful. Now that I’ve been to a few concerts in Germany and compared them to the concerts I’ve been to in America I think I can safely generalize that audiences here are just better. They were all really into it, all really loving it, clapping along whenever there was clap-conducive music, and remaining pretty silent during all the more subdued emotional parts. They gave him a standing ovation which lasted about five minutes even after his final exit.

And just before he left he pointed again to a few sections of audience with special thank yous. “Thank you in the back” he said, then turned to me and said, “And thank you up there!” just before leaving. Yeah, he definitely recognized me. For sure.

So that was that. It was a great experience but I’m really glad I’ll get another shot at it because I feel like I could have appreciated it more than I did. Next time I’ll be sure not to get drunk the night before. And maybe I’ll deliberately put myself in a bad mood….

The rest of the night consisted of me taking the tram back to the station and walking from there to the hotel, getting some water and something to eat along the way. It was a lovely night and if I hadn’t been so tired and out of it I might have considered going out and seeing what the Mannheim night-life had to offer, but after the heavy ordeals of the previous night and the show I’d just seen, I just went back to my room and went to bed.

Just a word of warning—if you ever go to Mannheim, especially on a Friday night, do not stay at the Hotel Luxa. The hotel itself is fine enough, but it’s on the loudest street I’ve ever slept at, and that’s no exaggeration. You could hear drunk people “woo-woo”ing all night long. Every couple of minutes you’d hear loud “woo-woo”s from people, though I have no fucking clue what there was to “woo-woo” about. Just “woo-woo”ing the fact they were drunk I suppose. I don’t remember “woo-woo”ing when I was drunk on Thursday night, at least not after the music ended.

For the first couple of hours I drowned it out by listening to The Wall and some other Pink Floyd on my headphones, but even when I finally turned to try and pass out at around 2:30 it was still going and indeed continued until the sun started rising at 5:00 a.m. Every few minutes: “woo-wooooo!!!” as if done for the sole purpose of keeping everyone on that street awake. I wished I had Darth Vader powers and could choke them from far away. If I hadn’t been in such a good mood in the first place I might have seriously lost it and gone out there to try and find these people and shove my socks down their throats.

But at least I was able to get some sleep between 5:00 and 8:30, before getting up and taking the train back to Hannover. And now I’m back and still awful tired but still with a few things to get done before I can relax, writing this journal entry being one of them. I really hadn’t expected it to be this long but that’s how it typically goes with me. Apologies if you read this entry and found it painfully boring—at least I warned you.

So that was the end of a pretty incredible week for me. My last visit to Ichenheim, an unexpectedly awesome epilogue to a significant event from seven years ago, and the fulfillment of a near 11-year-fantasy of being able to see The Wall performed live. Regarding both the girls of Ichenheim and The Wall concert: here’s to things that happen that I never thought would happen!

End of an Epilogue

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

On my first night at Rheinfest seven years ago I got ridiculously drunk. I brought things full-circle yesterday by getting even more drunk. I’m not sure how it happened—it must have been around the 50th or 60th beer or so—but I probably got more drunk last night than I ever have in my entire time in Germany. Writing this entry is going to be somewhat challenging, as it’s only 11:45 on the morning after and there’s still a substantial amount of alcohol swimming around my brain.

I’d thought I drank too much the night before. At Ralf’s birthday party I had five hefeweizens and a Schnapps, and I was still feeling the effects when we rode our bikes to the festival grounds at two in the afternoon. Frederick had arrived the night earlier and was already there with Dieter when Ursula, Myriam, Ralf and I got there. I took a bunch of photos as well as a video to get that out of the way, not realizing just how many more photos I’d end up taking.

A lot more people today. The dead guy hut.

Germans in their natural habitat.Elke, Myriam, Ursula, Ralf

We found Frederick and Dieter at a table outside, pretty much the same location we were at on Sunday, and ordered food and beer when the waitress came. Ursula had brought a few Geflügelwursts (turkey sausages) with her so I could order currywurst—the first I’ve eaten in about six years—because I don’t eat beef or pork. There were a lot more people there than on Sunday so it took awhile to get what we ordered, and for that first hour and a half I only had one beer.

I had no plans or expectations going in with regard to the female-situation. I figured it was likely that nothing of any significance would happen and I’d travel down the emotional spiral just like Sunday, only this time I’d accept my fate and just appreciate the feeling. On our way into the tent I spotted a blonde waitress in a blue tank-top standing outside smoking and talking to her friend, and she was clearly hotter than any of the girls I’ve mentioned in this journal. Easily the hottest girl in Ichenheim, but I could tell from her facial expressions as she talked to her friend that inside she was probably a raging bitch. I figured all those girls probably had shitty personalities anyway so it was no big deal that I couldn’t talk to or flirt with them.

But it turned out that this day would have even more significance as an epilogue to the Musik Club Offenburg night than I could have ever imagined.

First of all, as we were waiting for our food I spotted Tanja walking into the tent. The real Tanja. The fat girl I’d seen on Saturday (and at the Christmas concert several months ago) was apparently just a decoy, maybe a cousin or younger sister. The actual Tanja was still looking pretty good, so all the schadenfreude I’d allowed myself to feel over the decline in her appearance relative to the improvement in mine was instantly dissolved.

She came out and stood in clear view of our table while talking to three of her friends, and Dieter turned to me and remarked “vier leckeres Mädchen”—the direct translation being “four delicious girls” which might not sound as dirty in German as it does in English, but Myriam still told him that he’s too old to say things like that. He asked me if I knew any of them and I told him that I remember Tanja but I wouldn’t say I “know” her. He informed me that she’d recently spent six months in India, which I filed away in my brain under “useless information”.

I spotted Simone sitting inside the tent and talking to her friend, but if she also saw me she gave no indication. I figured the whole day would go by without my talking to her, which I wouldn’t have a problem with at all.

Then as I was finishing my meal things suddenly started to happen. Tanja and a couple of her friends came over to say hello to everyone, and she sat down at our table across from Frederick a couple of places down from me. “You know what?” I thought to myself, “I’m going to go ahead and speak to her. Just so I can say I did.” The information Dieter had given me before might not be so useless after all.

I waited for a break in the conversation to say, “Tanja, I heard you were in India. Did you like it?” In German of course. She politely replied that she did, and the next thing I knew both Dieter and Ursula got up so I could scooch over and sit next to her. Apparently they figured I was now going to work my irresistible charm on her and end up with a girlfriend in Ichenheim, which I know would please them.

Of course my charm is nonexistent, but I handled myself pretty well. I told her I was going to Japan later this year, that my plan was to travel the world teaching English, and that India is one of the countries I was considering. I asked her what she did there (she was a Project Manager at a German firm), what the people were like (mostly nice), and what her living arrangements were like (pretty much just like Western accommodations). She answered all of my questions but didn’t ask me anything, thus confirming what I already knew: she doesn’t like me. Never has.

Our chat died a natural death but we continued sitting next to each other for a few more moments as the others around us talked, and she eventually excused herself and went away. It had literally gone as well as it possibly could have, and I mean “literally” in the most literal sense of the word—because she doesn’t like me, that’s as good as it could have gone.

No sooner had she left than I turned to my right to see none other than Elena sitting on the bench on the other side of Ursula. Perhaps I ought to make it two-for-two and speak to her as well, although I really have nothing to say. I listened to her chatting with Ursula to see if maybe I could contribute something to the conversation, but they were in full-dialect mode and I barely understood anything. Eventually I asked Ursula if Elena was her cousin, also looking at Elena in case she maybe wanted to answer me, but Ursula just informed me that Elena was her niece and explained how they were related. Elena might have said something during the explanation, but the only word I might have exchanged with her was “ja”.

Nice shot with Elena.

Dieter’s band began to play as I returned from my first bathroom-break, and I took a couple of pictures before returning to my seat. Whenever they finished a song I’d turn my head around to look at them and clap, and as Simone was sitting in my line-of-sight between me and the stage I’d see her every time. At one point I figured “what the hell” and waved to her, pleased to find that she waved back.

What I didn’t expect was that she and her friend would then get up and come over to sit at our table, but that’s what happened. At least this time there was no pressure to say anything as Ursula, Frederick, and Simone’s friend did most of the talking. The only thing I could think to say to her was to ask her if she’d been there the day before and how many people were there. Apparently there were even less people there than Sunday, probably on account of the bad weather (the weather today, incidentally, was much better).

Simone left shortly thereafter, giving me a friendly “Tschüss” as she left, and that was the last I saw of her and maybe the last I’ll ever see. That also went literally as well as it possibly could.

You might find the attractiveness of these girls rather underwhelming, and I wouldn’t blame you. The only reason I’m so emotionally invested is because of their significance from many years ago. There were far more beautiful girls there but I wasn’t as interested. There was, however, one girl from the band that had played previously who was sitting directly in my line of sight and she was absolutely gorgeous. Brown hair, brown eyes, short but slim, and a Jessi-like face (Jessi being the last girl I ever fell in love with in case you weren’t aware). I did a great deal of glancing in her direction, always smiling in case she looked back. At one point she did look back, and while I can’t be certain she was looking at me I’m fairly positive she was. I held her gaze with determination that I wasn’t going to be the one to look away first, and this lasted for an absurd length of time—about ten full seconds maybe—before she finally looked away. About fifteen minutes later while she was sitting across from a guy who might have been her boyfriend our eyes met again and I went ahead and winked at her. She immediately turned away and grinned widely, which might have been at something her boyfriend said but I’ll just go ahead and assume it had to do with me. Sadly, she left shortly thereafter, but it was still a pleasant little distraction.

Another nice distraction (though I’m not sure what I was being distracted from) was Analena, the 8-ish year old daughter of Stephan and [forgotten wife’s name here] whom I’ve mentioned in a couple of my Christmas entries before. Not that I’m attracted to her—I most certainly am not—but I just find little girls pleasant in general and it’s not often that I get to interact with them. Analena was pressing Myriam to play patty-cakes with her and Myriam didn’t feel like it so she told her she should play with me. She was a bit shy at first but I was now pretty buzzed and I put her at ease. I haven’t played patty-cakes in about twenty years, so that was kind of surreal, but it was still fun. I even taught them a game we used to play in elementary school (“Down by the banks…”) where you slap each others’ hands and have to pull away at the last moment. Somehow I still remember the words.

Frederick arm-wrestling Analena.

We also arm-wrestled and I intended to let her win but I didn’t have to because she cheated anyway. And for awhile I taught her how to write some Japanese. She’d ask me how to write a simple sentence like “I like horses” and I’d write the Japanese characters and she’d copy them perfectly. She also wrote “I like Japan” on my arm, which I might have forgotten if I couldn’t still see faint traces of it now.

That was Happy Hour, the last hour of which I have significantly clear memory. You could buy two beers for the price of one, but since only Frederick, Ralf and I were drinking beer we’d just order six and each drink two at a time.VERY happy hour

Elena’s parents were sitting by us for awhile and Elena came over for a bit. I asked them if I could buy one of the “Musikverein Ichenheim” shirts they were wearing as a souvenir, so that also counted as kinda sorta talking to Elena. But unfortunately those shirts were ten years old and not for sale.

I also went up and bought a round of six beers for us before Happy Hour ended, and because Tanja was working the cash register I got another chance to say a few words to her as well.

As I said, things started to get a lot more blurry at that point and the rest of the day went by in a flash. But thanks to the minor successes I’d been having with the various girls throughout the afternoon, I was feeling unexpectedly good and enjoying myself substantially.

Eventually the band finished playing and most of the people went home, but we stuck around for quite awhile and [apparently] drank more.

When I was hungry I went up to the kitchen to ask for that last Geflügelwurst Ursula had brought, and at that point Elena was the only one there so I finally got to speak directly to her. She knew all about the wurst and told me she’d bring it out to me when it was done, which she did and it was a damn good wurst. I also asked her if she works every single day of every single Rheinfest and she laughed that yes she does, and I asked her if she earns any money and she laughed harder that she doesn’t. We exchanged a few more words then, so that clearly counts as a genuine full-on “chat” with Elena. That was the last I’d see of her, but I’m quite glad I got to talk to her before the end.

One of the un-anticipated advantages of having a camera is that it remembers things your brain might not, so when I examined the pictures from last night I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of images of things I have no recollection of. I know that a bunch of young people including Tanja were sitting at a table and I went over and sat and talked to them, but God knows what the hell I actually said. Probably talking about Japan or something. But I think they liked me because apparently they bought me beer and took pictures of me with them. I’d thought that the picture I snuck of Tanja way earlier would be the only image I’d get of her, but I was shocked this morning to discover that I have a bunch more, including some of me with her!

Beer being drunk. Me being social.

Tanja looking lovely. Me being drunk.

Frederick being drunker.Tanja being funny. I really like this one. My favorite. 

Oh Tanja, I can only wonder what you might think of me. You certainly seemed to dislike me on that Musik Club Offenburg night so many lifetimes ago, but I’m sure I changed your impression somewhat yesterday, just as I changed Simone’s impression as well. I might have been embarrassingly drunk but when I’m drunk I’m even more me than normal (if that makes any sense), and since I’m so frickin awesome I must have been super-duper-über-frickin awesome last night. How’s that for an epilogue?

But it wasn’t even over yet. The next matter was actually getting home, and let me tell you that riding a bicycle while completely hammered out of your mind is actually not quite as easy as you might think. I had an incredibly difficult time maintaining my balance and I was swerving all over the road. I even toppled over a couple of times and smashed up my cellphone (I discovered this morning that the display is completely busted), but I just thought it was hilarious and I laughed every time I fell.

Somehow, miraculously, I made it back to the house to find much to my great surprise that Tanja and her maybe-boyfriend were also there! I hadn’t realized they were such close friends of the family, but I suppose they were having a good time and recognized that we were having a good time and figured they could join us for the good times to continue.

MORE beer! Lovely Tanja

Tanja and her maybe-boyfriend

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t have the pictures to prove it, but there was apparently even more drinking when we got back. We were sitting around their basement bar and I remember struggling with the stereo to put on some music and failing miserably. It’s a wonder I didn’t break it. But I eventually just gave up and brought out my I-pod and speakers (and apparently the mouse from my computer as well for some inexplicable reason) and played Dark Side of the Moon.

The next thing I remember was waking up in the morning, so if I said goodbye to Tanja that memory is lost. I probably did. I was a bit worried about how I might have acted around her (lord knows what kind of shit came pouring out of my mouth last night but no one’s said anything) but when I looked at the pictures and realized she and everybody else were probably just as drunk as I was, I was no longer worried. The epilogue to the Musik Club Offenburg night thus ends with a climactic bang the likes of which I could never have anticipated.

All in all, it was a great way to spend my last night in Ichenheim and I couldn’t be more pleased with the experience. I’ll have to wait for the alcohol to wear off completely before I start drawing any conclusions about life-lessons-learned, but I can already tell how much I’ve grown since seven years ago. I’m still getting blackout drunk from time to time, but that’s something plenty of adults do anyway. At least I’m far more outgoing and self-confident, which is the most important thing.

I’m really going to miss you, Ichenheim. I know I’ll be back one day. We’ll just have to wait and see what fate has in store for me then.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , , ,

A World-Destroying Precedent?

June 1st, 2011 No comments

When you turn on the news and all you see is trivia about which Republican politician is ahead in the race to be the person who loses to Barack Obama in the next presidential election, it’s easy to get the impression that nothing really important is going on in the world these days.

But last night I listened to a recent podcast from a British writer named Johann Hari whose articles I’ve been enjoying for several years, and the topic was more important than anything I’ve seen on the news in weeks. The story was something I and I’m sure most other humans on the planet are unaware of, and those who are aware probably don’t realize how important it could potentially be. Hari framed the issue as a potential hinge-point in history—not just human history but the history of the entire Planet Earth—and I agree that it might be.

rainforest

Just about all scientists now understand that the world is undergoing its sixth mass extinction since the appearance of living organisms, and that this is due to the rapidly accelerating pace at which humans are robbing species of their natural habitats. I find this even more alarming than the threat of global warming alone, as ecosystems are volatile things and it would only take the disappearance of one or two key links in the food-chain to throw the entire global ecosystem radically off-balance to the point where humanity might no longer be able to sustain itself for more than a few more generations.

Virtually everyone understands that the problem is a global economic system that places all value on short-term profit and practically no value on long-term sustainability. What nobody seems to have a good answer for is what we’re supposed to do about it.

Enter Ecuador, home to a large portion of Amazon rainforest which happens to sit atop substantial oil-reserves. Ecuador’s situation is a microcosm of the world-at-large: the planet needs things like rainforests to maintain biodiversity and to continue converting carbon dioxide into oxygen so we can all breathe, but societies need money to keep up with other societies and money can easily be generated through revenue from oil extraction. It may be easy to see that the morally right thing to do is preserve these planet-sustaining ecosystems for the sake of future generations at the small expense of the current generation, but in practice this is a decision not-so-easily taken.

Ecuador has offered the world a compromise. It could potentially generate $7.2 billion by extracting the oil from the Amazon basin, but it would agree not to do so if other countries would come together and make up for half that amount: $3.6 billion.

The UN already has a program to compensate countries for refraining from deforestation, but not for lost oil revenue. Ecuador is really forcing the international community to greatly reconsider the monetary value it places on the earth’s natural habitats.

So far, predictably, the plan appears to be failing miserably. A few countries including Spain, Chile, and Belgium have donated token amounts ranging from $100,000 to $1.3 million, but Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has said that unless the first $100 million can be raised by the end of the year he’ll have no choice but to begin clearing the forest for oil extraction.

$100 million. A drop of water in the U.S. national budget. Pocket-change to the world’s wealthiest people. And yet no one is stepping up to the plate.

You might think, “So what? It’s just one rainforest.” But we can’t overlook the larger issue of the precedent it sets. Were it to succeed, Ecuador’s proposal would greatly increase the monetary value of natural environments, and countries across the world would have a much easier time refraining from destroying those environments if preserving them didn’t mean sacrificing such large potential revenues.

Conversely, if this plan fails it will have the opposite effect and confirm the precedent that the world places far more value on the resources that can be extracted from natural environments than maintaining those environments themselves. Ecosystems will continue to be destroyed, their rate of destruction will likely accelerate, and the delicate worldwide ecological balance could be pushed passed the tipping point far sooner than anyone might have expected.

When our great-grandchildren are growing up in a world devoid of electricity, running water, sufficient food for everyone, and perhaps even enough oxygen for everyone to breathe, they may look back on this moment in history and point to it as the crossroads at which we failed to take the last exit available to us on the highway to self-destruction.

For all the recent hype over one huckster’s ridiculous warning that the world was about to be brought to an end by God’s hands, it’s baffling how little attention is given to stories about the potential real end of the world brought about by human hands.